By Riah King-Wall, intern
Kia ora – I’m Riah King-Wall, and for the past five weeks I’ve been digging into some of the fascinating bits and pieces housed within the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Here on placement from the Master of Museum and Heritage Studies programme at Victoria University of Wellington, I’ve been lucky enough to work on a project within the Archives.
It has been my job to catalogue, image, and store a single series from the Museum Archives: MU000049 – Maori and Pacific Historical, Portrait and Artwork Cartographic collection, 1814 – 1970s. This series alone holds over 250 individual pieces of ephemera, gathered together from a wide range of sources and used historically by researchers from the museum. It includes maps, plans, surveys, prints, photographic portraits, drawings, did I mention more maps (!) and a particularly epic navigational chart of the Southern Hemisphere. This beautiful first edition print is by Guillame De L’Isle, a famed mapmaker who pioneered using advanced mathematical and scientific principles in cartography. The chart depicts a polar hemispherical map showing Australia and New Zealand according to Tasman’s two voyages in 1642-3 and 1644.
Hailing from the Bay of Plenty, I was immediately drawn to the fascinating plans and sections of pā sites from the region which were the settings for significant battles during the New Zealand wars. In particular, I’ve been hooked on material around the Battle of Gate Pā, which had its 150th anniversary this year with a number of special events held in the Tauranga area during 2014. The rough sketch and letter below are engaging objects which help paint a picture of how events transpired back in 1864. Ultimately, Gate Pā was the most destructive defeat of the British military in the New Zealand wars, with their casualties making up more than a third of the storming party. The final line of the letter, from William Walmsley to a Mr Ince, gives us an insight into the effects of the humiliating defeat suffered by British forces “…in fact the less said about the Gate Pā the better”.
As for those cheeky Victorian tomboys… later in the series a range of drawings pop up, all drawn by the utterly magnificent Ethel Richardson. Richardson, along with her sisters Lillie and Fanny, grew up in the late 1800s in Southland, but moved in late adolescence to Wellington when her father (George Frederick Richardson) became a government minister. All of the girls were high spirited and independent Victorian tomboys, and in 1890 when Ethel was 21, she and her sisters convinced their parents to let them board a government steamer captained by a friend of their father’s (the Hinemoa) to take a trip around the sub-Antarctic islands. They were already experienced sea-voyagers, and in Ethel’s diary of the trip she writes and draws about conditions on the voyage as well as wildlife or scenes the ship encountered. Her accounts mention capturing a horse at Bluff and riding it bareback after fashioning a bridle from flax. She also notes games of hide-and-seek with local sea lions and missions through squelchy bog to fetch grass for the ship’s cow.
This voyage took the girls to the Auckland, Campbell, Antipodes and Bounty Islands, where each was assessed for its potential as a haven for castaways. If deemed suitable, livestock such as sheep, goats, and cows were released in order to provide self-sustaining food sources for potential shipwreck victims. During the long hours at sea in between these stops, the girls would carve wood, draw, flirt with their shipmates, play practical jokes, or practice violin. Ethel drew a diary entry showing a solitary goat upon the edge of a cliff face, with the sea below and screeching seagulls above, and captioned it with ‘This is meant to represent the sound of a piece of Lillie’s music’.
Upon her return to Wellington, Ethel worked as a draughtswoman for her father with the Department of Lands and Survey, an unusual line of work for a woman at the time. Her accomplished mapping skills can be seen in the drawings she did on plans of pā sites for Elsdon Best in his book The Pa Maori.
During the 1930s Ethel moved to Waiho Gorge, Mount Cook, and was an early conservationist for the glaciers in the area. When the glacier valley track was being widened to accommodate motor vehicle traffic, she fought for the protection of the rata trees there and was successful in saving them. She also taught local schoolchildren the art of nature studies, and flora and fauna identification, taking them on walking trips through the bush and rivers.
Ethel (also known as Aunty Fluff later in life due to her snow white hair) studied painting in her youth under Petrus van der Velden. Her paintings depict delicate and realistic alpine landscapes, and while she was very attached to many and reluctant to part with them, she did support herself by selling works through the local hotel to tourists.
In the series I’ve been working on, her presence is in illustrations made c1920, to accompany a variety of publications by researchers from the museum at the time. Her drawings of Pacific kites and outrigger canoes are highly detailed and confidently rendered.
In addition to savouring the many delicious stories and images from the series, I have had an absorbing time taking part in the wider culture of the museum. Participating in training and workshops I’ve learned how to make archival boxes, work within the collections database, image objects correctly, and best practice with regards to handling precious paper objects. Highlights have been a trip to view a potential addition to the Archives collection, attending the Matariki Dawn Ceremony for staff, and sitting in on meetings to learn more about the potential that the Archives holds for researchers in various fields.
Two of my fellow Museum and Heritage Studies students have also been on placement here at Te Papa and together we have been able to take back-of-house tours to the taonga Māori stores, the photography collection, the textile stores, the fish specimens, the history stores, and conservation labs. I am very grateful to all those staff members who have made this placement extremely rewarding and enjoyable, especially my supervisor Jennifer Twist (Archivist).